The following is an exercpt from: Suffering of Love: Christ’s Descent into the Hell of Human Hopelessness (Ignatius Press, 2006), by Regis Martin, a theologian and faculty member of the Franciscan University of Steubenville (hat tip to Insight Scoop).

Professor Martin describes the sacrifice of Maximilian Kolbe at Auschwitz.
But what exactly did he do, this ministering angel of a man who restores, magically as it were, the faith of children? This Roman Catholic priest who, loving God more than himself, is thus able—and free!—to love everyone in God? In one word, Kolbe substitutes himself for another. At the eleventh hour, he takes the place of a grieving husband and father whom the SS have randomly chosen, along with nine or so others, to die in a bunker deprived of food and water. Protracted starvation: a horrible way to die.
"What does this Polish pig want?" demanded the SS officer, wearing the dreaded death's head insignia of the Gestapo, when the slight figure of Father Kolbe came forward dressed in his prison garb—the very insignia of man's humiliation, beneath which, in Kolbe's case, shines the unseen holiness of Almighty God. "I am a Catholic priest", he replied. "I want to die for that man. I am old; he has a wife and children." Incredulous, the officer nevertheless permits the substitution, providing thereby the sacramental working out of what Charles Williams, citing Saint Paul, was so wont to call the Great Web of Exchange. Kolbe and the others are then led away to die.
A fortnight's agony later, all but four have died and of these only Kolbe remains conscious. Gestapo patience at last having worn thin, an injection of phenol is administered and now Kolbe too is dead. It is August 14, 1941, the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, the Woman clothed with the sun and the moon and the stars, who long before had promised young Maximilian the twin crowns of purity and martyrdom for God. This same Woman, who had herself been schooled in suffering and sorrow, indeed whose mute and anguished consent to her Son's immolation on Calvary became the deepest kenosis of faith in all history, to recall the moving text of Pope John Paul II's encyclical.
Nearly forty years later Poland's Pope would visit that bunker and before a vast crowd declare how "victory through faith and love was won by Maximilian Kolbe in this place, which was built for the negation of faith, and to trample radically not only on love but on all signs of human dignity, of humanity: a place built on hatred and contempt for man in the name of a crazed ideology." And quoting 1 John 5:4, he concluded: "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world, and this is the victory that with faith overcometh the world." So the Pope reminded the world when, in 1979, he went to Auschwitz to speak of Father Kolbe's victory, of its profound source in the love and the faith of God, and of its continuing relevance to the world.

But it must be understood in all its fullness as a victory for all, for both Jew and Christian alike; otherwise the whole expiatory point of Kolbe's substitution is lost. The victory of the one cannot be denied the other, for the act of exchange is for the other. United thus in the same school of suffering, wedded as one by the one Christ, Jew and Christian stand together as joint beneficiaries of the priestly heroism of Kolbe precisely because, behind it, there stands the universal, infinitely efficacious priestly sacrifice of the Son of God, broken on his Cross to become the bread for the world. Spiritually, then, as Pius XI would tirelessly point out to a world about to witness wholesale liquidations of God’s people, spiritually we are all Semites.
Behind Fr. Kolbe, every martyr, every sinner, every saint, stands the lamb once slain, eternal high priest of the new and everlasting covenant. To him be glory foreover.

More info on Kolbe

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